SUNNYSIDE Sunnyside Fire Department is unique to the Yakima Valley, having a full-time ambulance service manned by experienced paramedics.
Tucker Walker is one of the younger paramedics on staff, having been on staff five of his nine years working in his chosen career.
One of the more experienced paramedics is Dennis Blumer, who’s been with the department 23 years. He’s been a paramedic 31 years.
Both chose their careers because they love helping people and were inspired by the service of family members.
Blumer’s grandmother, Clara Blumer, worked at the Black Hills Ordinance Depot hospital in South Dakota, running its ambulance service 1940-56.
“It was similar to the Umatilla Chemical Depot,” Dennis said.
Walker grew up in a firehouse, having watched his father’s career as a firefighter. His father is the Battalion Chief of Training for East Pierce Fire and Rescue, having started his career in 1986.
Becoming a paramedic isn’t easy, and each year, they must complete a 50 hour refresher course to stay up-to-date on the latest advances in their field.
“We are both nationally registered paramedics,” Blumer said.
He didn’t start out as a paramedic. He worked his way through the ranks, pursuing the training he needed.
Starting as a volunteer firefighter, Blumer trained to become an Emergency Medical Technician before taking the courses needed to be a paramedic.
“He’s been a paramedic longer than I’ve been alive,” Walker quipped.
He, on the other hand, went to Central Washington University and earned a Bachelor of Science in paramedicine.
“It was my father’s goal for me to do one better than him,” Walker said, noting his father is a certified Emergency Medical Technician.
“What we do is really a win-win for the community,” Blumer said, noting Sunny-side has both full-time fire protection and paramedic services.
It’s the only service of its kind in Yakima County, Walker said.
The nearest full-time paramedic and fire services is in the Tri-Cities, he said.
In addition to serving Sunnyside, the ambulance service provides aid to other service areas from Grandview to Toppenish when their services are unavailable. A Sunnyside ambulance has also been present for events like the Northwest Nitro Nationals Pro Hillclimb north of the city and Alder-dale Pioneer Picnic and Rodeo in Cleveland.
A full service ambulance with paramedics aboard is like a rolling emergency room, the men said.
“We provide emergent and non-emergent services,” Blumer said.
That means patients who are in need of advanced life support transfers from the local hospital to a trauma center outside the area or for an airflight have the care they need.
The ambulance call volume has been on the rise and is about 10 percent higher than last year.
“We’re doing more with the same or fewer staff,” Walker said.
He said staffing levels are lower than when he started working for Sunnyside, which was just prior to the retirement of Deputy Chief Lloyd Hazzard in 2013.
Approximately 80 percent of the calls responded to by the Sunnyside Fire Department are for ambulance services, Walker said.
Blumer noted the ambulance service also responds to calls for lift support, and if someone is ill but doesn’t need to go to the hospital, there isn’t a charge.
Types of calls can range from someone falling to a person suffering from weather-related illness to extreme trauma situations like a shooting or crash.
“Paramedics can do just about anything a hospital can do in the first few minutes of a call,” Walker said.
The men said there is a short window of opportunity in which paramedics can prevent a person from suffering long-term effects in a life-threatening emergency. It takes 3-6 minutes for the brain to begin dying when deprived of oxygen, they said.
With the recent shooting incidents, the paramedics were in high demand and their workload increased, they said, noting police and the fire department work hand-in-hand in crisis situations.
The department’s para-medics don’t just ride in ambulances. They provide critical aid, and Paramedic Greg Hutchinson recently provided police with tactical medicine training.
Blumer said that type of training is important because it gives officers the needed information for applying tourniquets and CPR when it is too dangerous for the paramedics to get to victims of a crisis.
CPR and first aid training for the public is also offered at the fire station each month, giving the community additional support via people who have skills to help keep patients alive prior to the arrival of the ambulance.
Paramedics are trained to administer prehospital medications and advanced air-way interventions. They have the skills for cardiac monitoring and defibrillation.
Walker, Blumer noted, has more training than a typical paramedic with his degree. Most require an Associate of Science and a year mini-mum ambulance experience.
The paramedics in Sunny-side are typically cross-trained as firefighters, as well.
They undergo training in vehicle extrication, confined spaces, trench rescue, and high and low extrications, which involve removing a person in a vehicle suspended above or below the ground level.
“We do it because we love serving others,” Blumer said.